I never thought much about whether or not I liked going to church when I was a little girl. That would be like asking myself whether I liked to breathe or eat. It was just something I did every Sunday; everybody went to church on Sunday.
Most of Mass was in Latin, the language that Jesus spoke. I didn’t know Latin, so I just let my mind wander or said the rosary, which was about the same thing, ’cause after so many Hail Marys, my mind kinda drifted away from the words anyway. Every once in a while, I had to stand up or kneel down, which jolted my mind in a new direction.
I thought Mass was a little bit like the football games Grandpa liked to watch. There was a whole lot of boring at the beginning and at the end, but at half-time the band came out and that was terrific. At church, half-time was when the stories got told; those were in English. Everybody marked their missal with the red string, snapped them shut like a joint period at the end of a sentence, and all rosary-sayers, like me, clamped down on one bead to hold their place, until Father started up in Latin again. Then we knew half-time was over.
First Father stood on the left side and read the Epistle: that’s a letter some holy guy wrote in ancient times telling everybody how Jesus meant we should live, like cover up our head in church, and women stay in the back, and never-mind the old rules, ’cause now that Jesus was around, new rules are here to stay; before, no pork in the house, and now, no eating any meat on Friday, and before the Sabbath was Saturday and now it’s Sunday.
Father always started by telling us who wrote the letter and who got the letter. It seemed to me that there were so many rules around, it was impossible to keep track of them all. I guessed that’s why Purgatory was so darned crowded. I liked Paul’s letters the best ’cause he mainly just said love everyone and that was pretty easy to understand. Sister told us Paul was a bad guy before he got holy; I liked Paul ’cause I knew if a bad guy could straighten up and become a saint, there was still hope for me.
When the Epistle was over, Father walked to the middle, knelt down a couple of seconds, then walked over to the other side and read the Gospel. That’s another rule, whenever you cross the middle, you gotta kneel, one knee was okay, but absolutely no skipping this part, even if you’re just in the church just to clean it, even if nobody is there to see. Father crossing the middle was the signal to stand at attention, ’cause now we got a story about Jesus’s actual life. He had a super adventurous life, better than Lone Ranger, and Cochise, and Davy Crockett combined.
After the Gospel, Father said, in his own words, what everything meant, just in case we missed it. That’s about when my mind started wandering again. I thought Father should have written it all down in a letter like those other holy guys, then I could read it later when I had nothing to do and I didn’t want to tell Mom I was bored for fear of what she might think up for me to do to cure the boredom. If I said I was busy reading Father’s Epistle, she’d probably be really proud and brag about it to her friends.
Palm Sunday was super-exciting and sad. First everybody in ancient times celebrated with a big parade and said how Jesus was the best thing since sliced bread, then everybody started turning against him; I thought they just couldn’t stand that Jesus was so darned good all the time.
For some reason, Jesus didn’t stand up for himself, when of course he could. For Pete’s sake, he was out in the desert with no food and water for 40 days and 40 nights and still had enough energy to argue with the devil: If I was Jesus, I’d have saved some breath and just told the devil, “Who put you down in hell, anyway? My dad, that’s who. So just leave me alone, or I’ll tell Dad.”
It probably made him saddest that people in his own town turned against him, and some of his best friends, too, and he just thought what’s the use, no matter how simple I make it…I even said just be like children, and everyone tried to make it more complicated. Jesus must have felt so alone. He got all beat up, and teased, and spat on, and then the king asked him to do some tricks to prove he could really do miracles. Bonita once said that Jesus should have just done one miracle and saved his skin. But not Jesus, he was a little bull-headed, which I could understand, sometimes I dug my feet in, too.
I got a palm on Palm Sunday, and I kept it behind the crucifix hanging up above my bed for the whole year. I had mixed feelings about that palm, ’cause first it felt like a celebration, then it felt like maybe I could be like the people turning against Jesus, ’cause I have to admit, there were some other pretty spectacular things about Palm Sunday: First, because the story was so long, and we stood at attention until it seemed like our feet would go to sleep, Father gave us a break and skipped his talk; second, Lent was almost over, and I could almost hear the Easter Bunny hopping down the bunny trail. That made me feel a lot like Peter, Jesus’s number one friend, the one he trusted so much he wanted him to build the first church, and even Peter turned his back on Jesus for a while.
This year, I’m all set with my new Easter dress and the house is decorated. All the Easter treats are planned for the grand-children, and the church schedule is posted on the board. For the rest of the week, I’ll be writing about my favorite time of the year, Easter time, with no particular lesson I’ve learned at the end, except maybe this invitation: just be like children.